The term digital age has become a natural characterization of the current period in human history; this term is associated with the Western technological regime which is identified by the digital revolution. In the same way that industrial revolution or the iron production marked different periods of our time in terms of means of production (industrial Age, Iron Age), today’s economy is based on information computerization. In 2005 the United Nations inaugurated the Digital Solidarity Fund program in order to address the uneven distribution and use of information and communication technologies and to enable excluded people and countries to enter the new era of the information society.
The term digital age though seems to be inconsistent with the global reality. Only forty percent of the world has internet connectivity according to the World Economic Forum. Users’ growth percentage in 2014 has been 7.9% while in 2010 was 16.1% and in 2000 was 47.2%. So our age is being characterized based principally in a Western reality. There is no doubt that a digital revolution did happen and that the massive shifts in communication, connectivity, sociality and knowledge production are indeed massive, but it would be fair to say that the digital age is also being characterized by Western Ethnocentrism alike many other eras in our history.
Today the digital age and the digital economy that has created is considered an evolutionary inevitability for our world, and those who are not following this evolution are in an disadvantageous position. This idea of a technologically superior West that simply follows scientific progress and an inferior South that struggles to catch up to the West is very problematic. It is not just the underlied cultural suprimacism that implies but also the theoretical gap that it creates on how we should address these inequities and where we should focus our efforts.
The West of the digital economy sees in these inequities possibilities for entrepreneurship, new markets and technological innovation. The focus seems to shift from the struggle for basic goods and peace to a struggle for cheap and accessible technologies that will allow the less privileged to join us on a networked global village. Manuel Castell in The Internet Galaxy (2003) celebrates the internet’s capacity to liberate and he also points out its ability to exclude those who don’t have access to it, calling us to take responsibility for the future of the age.
There is of course a lot of discussion and criticism about the digital economy blinding the people to the reality of the conditions of the world’s poorest countries. Considering ways to eliminate poverty and disease that do not encompass information technology is also part of that discussion. What we call digital economy seems to lack in answers when we look at world’s problems from a less ethnocentric perspective. We can still try to built cheap laptops and mobile phones but to address our time’s biggest problems, that 60% of the world’s population that has no internet connectivity needs to be part of that discussion. To do so we need to create appropriate platforms and the World Economic Forum is not the place to do so.